During the last couple months, I’ve been studying The Book of Job. This amazing narrative with extended poetic passages provides us with details from the life of a “man in the land of Uz whose name was Job.” Most observers cite a similar theme for the book: Why do the righteous suffer? I would agree that this is certainly the common template from Job’s (man’s) point of view.
I’ve studied the book a number of times over the years. This time, I wanted to reflect a little deeper and try to go beyond my normal understanding of the book. As I dove into the first chapter, I noticed a sheet of note paper from a long-ago study of the book. I had written on the paper, “I alone escaped …” a phrase that’s repeated three times in the span of three verses in chapter 1 (verses 15, 16 and 17)! When I originally wrote the phrase down, I knew I intended to use it one day.
That was when a plan began to form in my head … along with a sonnet. (Yeah, I know that’s surprising, huh?) I realized one of the best ways to digest the Book of Job would be to take parts from a chapter and work it into a poem. (A poem about a poem? Yep … I guess that’s how I learn.) As I continued to work through chapters, more sonnets composed themselves to the point I decided I would compose a sonnet on each chapter (42 in all) of the book. It’s going to take some time, of course, to work my way through the chapters and the sonnets, but I thought I’d post one today.
Going through the Book of Job, one engages many questions about Almighty God, about Satan, and about the workings of the physical world in which we live. But here’s what we know at the start. Job was a righteous man … “upright, fearing God, turning away from evil.” He was also a wealthy man with many possessions and the text tells us he also was “the greatest of all men of the east.” Those are some pretty hefty credentials!
Of course, Satan happened to notice this impressive man and decided to seek an audience with the God of the Universe. I’ll suggest Satan’s thoughts aren’t much different than mine when I notice someone who seems to have it all … I tend to think that person has had an easy life, no trials, no hardships, just smooth sailing all the way. (Dare I admit it? I’ve said things like, “If that person had to live my life, he/she wouldn’t be so holy, so spiritual, so close to God.” Yeah, I’m a wretch.)
So God permitted Satan to rip Job’s life apart, piece by piece. And the repetition of the phrase “I alone escaped” provides a continuity to the narrative that helps us consider how complete the devastation was in Job’s life. Some of us understand how destruction comes quickly … the loss of a child … a troubling medical diagnosis … the horrors of natural disaster and/or war. All of those things can bring us, like Job, to our knees. And in the end, we’re still not always able to clearly articulate an answer to the question, Why do the righteous suffer?
Perhaps as I work through the book, my sonnets will help me come to a better understanding. I present below my sonnet on Chapter 1.